BARRIER-BREAKER BERTEMES HOPES TO CONTINUE MAKING HISTORY FOR LUXEMBOURG

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www.iaaf.org|27-Sep-2019 12:29

Of the record-breaking eight men who have hurled the shot beyond 22 metres this season, there is little doubt the most unexpected of the group has been Bob Bertemes.

Hailing from the small landlocked European country of Luxembourg, and boasting a PB of 21.00m leading into this year, the 26-year-old was perhaps not the most immediate choice to be the latest member of the 22-metre club.

But at the low-key JP Kops and JM Reuter Memorial meeting in his native Luxembourg in August, Bertemes elevated himself to a new shot put stratosphere with a booming national record heave of 22.22m.

“In training I had a good feeling that I could produce a long throw but I hadn´t thought of throwing 22.22m,” Bertemes says. “I thought that if I got things going, I could throw a 21.60m plus. But I guess that’s rotation; when you are in a good shape and relaxed, anything is possible.”

Growing up in the small town of Belvaux in South Western Luxembourg, Bertemes, at the age of six, decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother by joining the local track and field club.

Boasting his sporting genes from both parents, who were handball players, Bertemes insists he was passed down his physical and mental attributes from a combination of both.

“My dad once told me he was really good at doing squats when he was younger and I really got that physical talent from him,” he explains. “But I got the mentality from my mum; when she wants something doing, she will get it done.”

From the age of 12, Bertemes’ then coach made the decision he might be best suited to the throws. He tried the discus and the javelin but felt most comfortable in the shot circle, and from the age of 15 specialised in the discipline.

Bertemes rapidly advanced to an international level, competing at the 2011 European U20 Championships and the following year at the World U20 Championships in Barcelona.

In the Catalan capital he equalled his national U20 record with a 19.33m effort in qualification, but in the final he failed to record a mark – an experience which proved pivotal in his career development.

“For me, it was really crazy to qualify for the final but it got into my head,” he explains. “I was so nervous, I couldn´t even get a measured throw. I never wanted a repeat performance, so since that competition I always try to stay relaxed and not overthink things.”

Year on year he continued to make steady progress. In 2013 he fired the shot out to a national record of 18.78m with the senior implement and in 2014 he breached the 19-metre line for the first time, climaxing his campaign with a 19.36m hurl.

He also experienced a four-month period training with the army. Today he is a full-time athlete and only represents the army on official occasions, but he looks back fondly on his military training.

“It really helped me a lot, you learn so much about yourself and about your limits and how to push them even further,” he says. “I also learned how to handle stress because our instructors put us in many stressful situations to see how we would perform.”

In 2015 a significant technical breakthrough unlocked the key for greater success. At the European Indoor Championships in Prague, he heaved the 7.26kg metal ball out to a national record of 20.56m in qualification and finished fifth in the final with a best of 20.48m. Later that year at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing he registered 19.87m in qualification to finish just seven centimetres shy of a place in the final. Nevertheless, he described the competition there as an “unreal experience”.

For the next couple of seasons, however, his career plateaued. In 2016 he missed out on qualification for the Rio Olympics while at the 2017 IAAF World Championships he washed up a disappointing 31st out of 32 competitors with a best effort of 19.10m.

“The 31st place perfectly summed up my whole 2017 season,” he explains. “I had the worst outdoor season of my life and I never got things going in the right direction.

“But it was an important lesson for me, and I look back on London as a turning point in my life.”

Out of the ashes of his London disappointment, he sought change and switched in late 2017 from his Luxembourg base to connect with his current coach, Khalid Alqawati, who is based in Mannheim, Germany.

The move from his homeland was not easy but has proved the right one as Alqawati sought to utilise Bertemes’ speed and powerful legs by reinventing him from glider to a rotational thrower.

“He (Alqawati) was sure I could throw 21 metres as a rotational thrower,” he adds. “He always sees the best in each person and helps them to realise to be the best version of themselves.”

Training 10 times a week, combining throws, jumps, sprints and weightlifting, Bertemes’ 2018 season proved a large step forward in his career. He regularly threw beyond 20 metres, setting three national records, highlighted by a 21.00m effort to place sixth at the European Championships in Berlin.

“The 2018 season gave me a lot of confidence,“ he says. “To throw 21 metres at the Europeans was unbelievable. Prior to the Europeans I had some good throws, which were close to 21 metres but I never managed to stay in the ring, so it was awesome to throw a PB on such a big stage.”

Continuing with the same training model as the previous year, he was satisfied with his 2019 indoor campaign, during which he set an outright national record of 21.03m in Potsdam and placed fifth at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow with 20.70m.

Throwing an Olympic qualifying mark of 21.10m was one of his big goals for 2019 and he achieved it in his fourth competition of the outdoor season, setting a national record of 21.29m in Zenica in June. His dazzling 22.22m effort came four competitions later.

That mark has elevated the Luxembourgian to sixth on the 2019 world list and a whole new level. Facing extra media scrutiny and interest from the other throwers since that PB, he moves on to the IAAF World Championships in Doha full of confidence, but also with realistic goals.

“In Doha, I hope to make it to the final but I’m going to take things step by step,” he says. “I’m first going to first focus on the qualification round. From there, anything is possible.”

If he achieves his goal in Doha, he will become the first athlete from Luxembourg to reach a World Championships final.

In the longer term, he hopes to establish himself among the world elite and win major championship medals. The last global athletics medal to be snared by an athlete from Luxembourg was delivered by Josy Barthel, who struck 1500m gold at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.

And the motivation of competing for the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg should not be underestimated.

“I always try to represent my county in the best way I can,” he explains. “It’s different coming from a little country and, for me, it´s easier to stay in touch with the people coming to competition or cheering for me.

“For sure, this gives me extra motivation to perform well.”